I watch my website/weblog traffic using the logs provided by my web hosting service, and Google Analytics. I see that nearly 30,000 people visit every month. They wander from page to page. Every hit – that's a request from a client (computer workstation) for a web page – is recorded. Every visit – that's one or more hits from the same client – is recorded. Who referred them – that's the website that provided the link to my website – is recorded. Or, did they request a page from my website – a direct request – by typing its URL into their web browser or clicking on a bookmark that they saved during a previous visit.
How does the web server know all this? Well, every request that it receives comes with a header that includes the identity of the client that requested it. How else is the web server going to know where to send the page that's been requested? No, that's not your name; it's the unique IP (Internet Protocol) Address of the computer where the request originated. Thus, if two or more people visit my website from the same computer, the web server will count them as two visits from the same visitor. If you visit my website from two different computers, the web server will count them as visits from two different visitors.
Just as every client has a unique IP Address, every website has a unique IP Address. How else would your client know where to send the request? (Yes, that means there are a lot of unique addresses on the Internet. Each one consists of four sets of three numbers: e.g. 999.999.999.999. That's a pretty big number and yet, we're running out of them. The new Internet Protocol provides for even more.) If you click on a link to my website that you find in someone else's website, the IP Address of that web site is included in the request header. That is how my web server knows who referred you to my website.
Not all requests are for webpages. One of my favorites is any request for a feed from my website. Currently, my web server receives about 100 requests for feeds every day, and responds with an XML document containing all postings in my blog. (Don't go! I'll explain it.) Webpages are HTML documents – a document written in the Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) describing all the words and images on a webpage. Your client browser (Microsoft Internet Explorer, Fire Fox, Google Chrome, etc.) reads this document and “renders” my webpage on your screen. An Extended Mark Up Language (XML) document contains data as well as a template describing how the data is organized (structured). A special app in your computer can be configured to show you just the new postings or maybe, the four or five most recent ones. Some apps provide just a few lines as a summary, and a link to the blog so you can read more if you want. These readers are often referred to as news feeds. Thus, requests for feeds indicate that someone is looking at my blog regularly.
I include feeds from other blogs on my website to help promote other bloggers who I feel have something worth reading. You can see them at Blogs to Follow on my website.
Okay, take a deep breath. Yes, I trapped you into reading a lot of geeky computer terminology. Forgive me. You need to know it if you're ever going to make sense of the reports that come out of your web server and services such as Google Analytics.
I'm going to introduce you to Google Analytics next week. If you don't already know about it, Google Analytics is a free service that samples the traffic at your website and provides simplified reports. including graphs and maps, to help you make sense of it.
Until then, check out your website hosting service and, if you haven't already, begin studying the reports they provide. If they don't provide logs or analytics for your website, it might be a good idea to switch to another hosting service. You cannot manage your website/weblog effectively without them. You're flying blind without any feedback to help you understand what you're doing and how you might become more successful at it.